Category Archives: Tennessee

Don’t miss these fun annual events in the South

Friday, February 09, 2024

Mardi Gras, food festivals, and more—the states along the southern Great River Road offer an outstanding calendar of events all year long. Here’s a look at just a few of the annual events you’ll find in Mississippi River cities and towns in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Kentucky

  • Banana Festival, Fulton – Every September, the twin towns of Fulton, Kentucky, and South Fulton, Tennessee, come together for this fun event that celebrates the area’s history as an important railroad stop (it had the only icehouse on the way to Chicago from New Orleans, meaning fruits like bananas could make the long trip). The festival includes food vendors, craft vendors, and (obviously) lots of banana treats. 

Tennessee

  • Memphis in May – Head to the Home of the Blues every spring for a monthlong celebration of music, international culture, and food. The festivities traditionally kick off with the Beale Street Music Festival (on pause for 2024), which attracts world-famous acts from a diverse array of genres for a three-day celebration. Bring your appetite for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in the middle of the month and work of the calories at the annual Great American River Run over Memorial Day weekend. 
  • Let it Glow Light Show, Union City – Discovery Park of America is part of the official network of Great River Road Interpretive Centers and holds events throughout the year for school groups and other visitors. A holiday highlight is the Let it Glow Light Show, a walk- or drive-thru display that features more than a million lights spread throughout the park’s grounds, as well as live music, visits from Santa and Mrs. Clau, and other attractions.

Arkansas

  • King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena-West Helena – Discover the sounds of the Delta at this annual event held the weekend before Columbus Day. Named for King Biscuit Time, the longest-running daily radio show (which broadcasts from the Delta Cultural Center in downtown Helena), the festival brings thousands of visitors to the banks of the Mississippi for a weekend of blues music from performers across the South and the country.
  • Lake Chicot Fall Festival, Lake Village – The community of Lake Village in southeastern Arkansas is home to not only Lake Chicot—the state’s largest natural lake and the largest oxbow lake in North America at 20 miles long—but also the annual Lake Chicot Fall Festival, which features a barbecue cookoff, a classic car show, and more fun events.

Mississippi

  • Juke Joint Festival, Clarksdale – Clarksdale is rich in blues history—it’s the site of the Delta Blues Museum and the famous Crossroads where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul for his legendary musical talent—so it makes sense that it’s home to lots of great opportunities to catch live music. One event that visitors shouldn’t miss is the annual Juke Joint Festival, which features a day (and night) of live music from more than 100 blues artists at venues throughout the city.
  • Spring Pilgrimage, Natchez – Every March and April, the historic city of Natchez—the oldest continuous settlement on the Mississippi River, it was officially established in 1716—opens more than a dozen of its iconic homes to the public for tours as part of the Spring Pilgrimage. The event includes guided tours of pre-Civil War homes and other properties on the National Register of Historic Places.

Louisiana

  • Christmas Eve bonfires, St. James Parish – This uniquely Louisiana tradition features the lighting of gigantic bonfires along the levees on the Mississippi River to help “Papa Noel” (the Cajun Santa Claus) navigate his route on Christmas Eve. These bonfires can be found throughout Louisiana’s river parishes but are most common in the communities of Grammercy, Lutcher, and Paulina in St. James Parish, about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans.
  • Festivals & celebrations, New Orleans – New Orleans isn’t called the Festival Capital of the World for nothing. Throughout the year, the Big Easy welcomes millions of visitors to music festivals, cultural celebrations, arts events, and much more. There’s a festival going on every weekend—visitors can find fun at Mardi Gras, Essence Fest, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and many more.

Photo Credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism

Unique shops along the Great River Road

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Whether you’re looking for holiday gifts or just want to visit some of the country’s most unique retailers, you’ll find outstanding shopping opportunities up and down the Great River Road. Here’s a look at some of the distinctive shops you can discover as you travel along the Mississippi River.

Northern Great River Road

Minnesota is home to some one-of-a-kind retailers, and nothing is more one-of-a-kind than the Mall of America (located in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington), the country’s largest shopping and entertainment complex and one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul offer other outstanding local retailers, too, located in shopping districts like Nicollet, downtown Saint Paul, and the North Loop. Head further down the Mississippi to discover charming cities like Red Wing, where shoppers can explore the Red Wing Shoe Company store and museum and find Scandinavian gifts at Uffda Shop, or Winona, which is home to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum (which has an outstanding gift shop).

Galena is consistently cited as one of the most charming small towns in America, and this Illinois city boasts dozens of retailers in its historic downtown district. More than 125 storefronts offer a wide selection of clothing, jewelry, antiques, and more—don’t miss popular destinations like Galena Book & Paper Co. and Flashback. The Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa provide a memorable shopping experience at stores like Antique Archaeology (featured in the History Channel series “American Pickers”) in LeClaire, Iowa, and the John Deere Store (part of the sprawling John Deere Pavilion) in Moline, Illinois.

Central Great River Road

Historic Hannibal, Missouri, is not just the boyhood home of Mark Twain, it’s also a fun shopping spot—visitors can find retailers like the Dutch Country General Store, Mark Twain Book & Gift, and Mississippi Marketplace. Travel south along the river to St. Louis, where unique locales like City Foundry STL (a former foundry building that now houses a food hall and specialty retailers) and the Cherokee Antique Row shopping district await.

In Memphis, shoppers will find interesting souvenir shops all along Beale Street, including A. Schwab’s which was established in 1876 that carries everything from clothing to voodoo supplies. (The store’s motto is “If you can’t find it at Schwab’s, you’re probably better off without it.”) Speaking of iconic shopping spots, don’t forget Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid—a sprawling outdoors store that also features a 103-room hotel, a 600,000-gallon lagoon with more than 1,800 fish, and an amazing observation deck atop the 32-story building on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Southern Great River Road

Mississippi offers a unique shopping experience in historic downtowns all throughout the Delta region. Clarksdale—“the home of the Blues”—is home to the Delta Blues Museum (and its related gift shop) and one-of-a-kind stores like Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art. Vicksburg’s downtown and Washington Street hosts a wide variety of boutiques, antique shops, and more, including the Attic Gallery and the Levee Street Marketplace. Natchez, the oldest city on the Mississippi River, has a historic downtown filled with interesting shops like Silver Street Gallery & Gifts and Lower Lodge Antiques.

The southern end of the Great River Road travels through Louisiana, which is home to can’t-miss retailers in cities like New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Perkins Rowe in Baton Rouge has a mix of retailers, restaurants, and entertainment spaces, and the city’s massive Mall of Louisiana, which features nearly 200 stores and the world’s third-largest indoor carousel. New Orleans is an iconic shopping destination, whether you’re exploring the French Market, Magazine Street, or the French Quarter.

Photo Credit: Explore Minnesota

Holiday events along the Great River Road

Monday, October 30, 2023

There are plenty of ways to celebrate the holiday season along the Great River Road, from winter festivals and markets to light shows and parades. Here’s a look at the kinds of events you’ll find this winter in communities up and down the Mississippi River.

Light shows & festivals

Every winter in Dubuque in northeastern Iowa, motorists take a scenic drive through stunning holiday light displays at Reflections in the Park, an annual event held at Louis Murphy Park, which sits atop a limestone bluff and overlooks the city and the Mississippi River. See more holiday attractions in Dubuque here.

There are plenty of reasons to visit New Orleans any time of year, but there’s a particularly special event that welcomes guests right around Christmastime. NOLA ChristmasFest is held at the city’s Ernest N. Morial Convention Center over the last two weeks of December, and highlights include New Orleans’ only skating rink, carnival rides, a Gingerbread Village, and more.

Head to the Memphis Zoo for their annual Zoo Lights display, which dazzles visitors with more than a million holiday lights, an LED Ferris wheel, Santa’s workshop, live reindeer, holiday events and more. Zoo Lights runs on select nights from after Thanksgiving to early January.

The GLOW Holiday Festival in Minnesota’s capital city of St. Paul runs from mid-November to New Year’s Eve. The event, held at CHS Field—home of the St. Paul Saints baseball team—is a family-friendly event where you’ll find everything from a tubing hill to a zip line.

Christmas & holiday markets

For nearly 60 years every November, the city of La Crosse on Wisconsin’s section of the Great River Road has hosted its annual Holiday Fair, which is home more than 100 arts and crafts vendors who sell seasonal wares, from ornaments to home décor to apparel. (While you’re in La Crosse, don’t miss the Rotary Lights display in Riverside Park, which attracts more than 100,000 people a year.)

Belleville, a city of 42,000 in southwest Illinois—just on the other side of the river from St. Louis—holds its annual Christkindlmarkt, an open-air German Christmas market, in the public square every weekend from late November until just before Christmas. Visitors will can shop for unique European and handcrafted items and enjoy food, beverages, and live entertainment.

Other events

Natchez, Mississippi—the oldest city on the Mississippi River—rings in the holiday season every November and December with its Christmas in Natchez celebration, a monthlong event that features a tree lighting ceremony, weekly caroling and other events.

The charming town of Galena, Illinois, offers a full calendar of holiday events in November and December, including its annual holiday parade through the historic downtown, the Holiday Fire in the Sky fireworks show, and the Night of Luminaria and Living Windows, where more than 5,000 candelit luminaries light up the street and Main Street businesses display their holiday-inspired Living Windows.

Photo Credit: Travel Wisconsin

Outdoor dining on the southern Great River Road

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Looking for a spot to grab a bite to eat outside while you’re traveling the southern half of the Great River Road? Here’s a look at some outdoor dining options in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Perhaps more of a “take it to go” place (though there is some outdoor seating outside the small restaurant), Prince Pit BBQ has two locations along Kentucky’s section of the Great River Road—one in Barlow and one in Bardwell. At both spots, you’ll find delicious barbecue, including pulled pork, ribs, chicken, and more.

Wilson Café cooks up Southern fare with an upscale twist for brunch, lunch, and dinner in a historic building in downtown Wilson, Arkansas, about a 45-minute drive from Memphis. The café is a popular spot that’s well known for dishes that use local ingredients, and diners can enjoy the outdoors (and even some live music) on The Wilson’s outdoor patio. 

Flight Restaurant in downtown Memphis offers outdoor seating right on Main Street in the heart of the Bluff City, and diners can enjoy delicious dishes like scallop caprese and lobster and crab benedict or Southern favorites like chicken and waffles and shrimp and grits. If you’re in the mood for a drink, be sure to try one of the restaurant’s white wine or red wine flights.

Take in outstanding views of the Mississippi River on the 10th floor of the First National Building as you enjoy a meal at 10 South Rooftop Bar & Grill in downtown Vicksburg, Mississippi. This casual—and scenic—dining spot serves up a wide range of tasty dishes, from blackened catfish (this is Mississippi, after all) to fried green tomatoes to burgers.

If you’re headed to New Orleans, don’t miss The Court of Two Sisters in the city’s famous French Quarter. This historic restaurant is housed in a historic 1832 building and is famous for its beautiful open-air courtyard, daily live jazz brunch buffets, and romantic ambiance.

Find more flavors of the Great River Road here.

(Photo: Wilson Café/Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism)

Summer events along the Great River Road

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Summer Fun on the Great River Road logo

Summer is just around the corner, and that means it’s a great time to drive the Great River Road. You’ll find a lot to see and do along the Mississippi River, from exploring parks to visiting museums and unique attractions, but there are also a lot of great summer events you shouldn’t miss—here’s a closer look.

We’ve asked organizations up and down the river to share some of their best summer events; see a searchable listing here.

Farmers’ markets & foodie events

The Great River Road cuts through some of the most fertile agricultural land in the county, so it’s no surprise that the 10 states along the Mississippi are home to outstanding farmers’ markets, food festivals, and more. Food Truck Fight comes to three Great River Road destinations this summer and fall (Galena in Illinois and Bettendorf and Muscatine in Iowa) and offers tasty food from local food trucks. In mid-May, the annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest takes place as part of the annual Memphis in May celebration in Tennessee. (The event also includes the Beale Street Music Festival and the Great American River Run.)

During growing season, Great River Road travelers will find delicious offerings from local producers at farmers all along the river from the La Crosse Farmers Market in Wisconsin to the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans.

Festivals & other fun events

Visit the charming river towns along the Great River Road on the weekend in the summer, and you’re likely to find some sort of fun festival or community celebration. Take the upcoming Mayfest in historic downtown Blytheville, Arkansas, which features a chicken wing competition, live music, and more. Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi is celebrating the 160th anniversary of the famous Civil War siege this year with lectures, cannon firing demonstrations, and walking tours. Or, head to Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site in Kentucky in September to celebrate Kentucky Archaeology Month.

Live entertainment

A trip along the Mississippi River is a trip through America’s musical history, and you’ll find plenty of options for live music pretty much everywhere you go. Many of the river towns along the Great River Road offer free concerts during the summer—for instance, you can pull up a chair outside the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri, and take in live music at the museum’s Music Under the Stars series. There are also music festivals aplenty, like Weekend at the Cave in Murphysboro, Illinois, where you can enjoy live music in an open air, natural rock-formed amphitheater in the Shawnee National Forest

But it’s not just music—keep your eyes peeled for arts fairs and other events. Theater lovers shouldn’t miss the annual Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minnesota, which offers performances of The Bard’s work throughout June and July.

(Photo: Shawnee Cave Amphitheater)

Visit these romantic restaurants & great gift shops

Thursday, February 02, 2023

If you’re looking for the perfect gift for that special someone or a fantastic place to go for that next date night, you’re in luck—you’ll find romantic restaurants and unique stores up and down the Great River Road. Here are a few places you shouldn’t miss.

Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery

Located on the banks of the Galena River (a tributary of the Mississippi River in northwestern Illinois), Galena is often named as one of the most charming towns in America, and it’s home to an extensive collection of restaurants and shops, as well as abundant historical attractions and scenic spots. Established in 1985, Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery has two great locations to visit to sample award-winning wines: a downtown kitchen and tasting room on historic Main Street and its vineyard, located in the scenic countryside of Galena.

Uffda Shop

Take a stroll through the boutiques, antique shops, and other stores in the walkable downtown of Red Wing, Minnesota (yes, it’s the same Red Wing that lends its name to the famous pottery and well-known boots). One place you should visit—especially if your significant other boasts Scandinavian heritage—is the Uffda Shop, which sells a wide array of gifts from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Find clothing (including hand-made scarves, mittens and hats), jewelry, crystalware and glassware, and much more.

Wilson Café & Tavern

If you’re traveling along the Great River Road in Arkansas, make a stop in the tiny town of Wilson (population: 750) and visit the Wilson Café, where you’ll find delectable farm-to-table cuisine for brunch, lunch, and dinner. Using ingredients from nearby communities and farms, Wilson Café offers an upscale dining experience and an ideal place to take someone special in your life.

Flashback

Take a trip through the past (and find a great retro gift) at Flashback, a vintage department store in Memphis’ midtown that specializes in clothing, accessories, and home décor. Whether you’re looking for a new outfit, some mid-century furniture, or quirky holiday decorations, you’re sure to find something worth taking home at this fun and funky store.

Bywater American Bistro

You’re going to get a great meal pretty much anywhere you go in New Orleans, so you really can’t go wrong with whatever you choose. Bywater American Bistro (located in the city’s Bywater neighborhood along the Mississippi River), the sister restaurant to the nationally acclaimed Compere Lapin in the Warehouse District, is a cozy, intimate neighborhood destination that’s perfect for a special night out.

(Photo: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism)

One Interpretive Center to see in each Great River Road state

Thursday, January 05, 2023

The nearly 100 Interpretive Centers along the Great River Road tell the story of the people, places, and events that have shaped life and culture along the Mississippi River. Whether you’re traveling the whole Great River Road or just visiting one state, you’ll find lots of great places to explore—here’s a look at one must-visit Interpretive Center in each state along the route.

Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center at Itasca State Park, Minnesota

See the start of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park in north-central Minnesota. Itasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest state park, covering more than 25,000 acres and containing more than 100 lakes. At Lake Itasca, the Mississippi River starts its 2,500-mile trek to the Gulf of Mexico (it’s only about 25 feet wide here, and in warmer months, visitors can wade in the headwaters or use steppingstones to walk across the river). The Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center is open year-round and features information about the park and the area, educational exhibits, interactive play areas, a large fireplace, a gift shop, restrooms, and more.

See more Interpretive Centers in Minnesota.

Freedom Park Great River Road Visitor Center, Wisconsin

Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers in northwestern Wisconsin, the Great River Road Visitor Center at Freedom Park is an Interpretive Center and city park that offers spectacular views, educational programming, community events, and wonderful birding and wildlife watching opportunities.

See more Interpretive Centers in Wisconsin.

Villa Kathrine, Illinois

This unique building, which houses the city of Quincy’s Tourist Information Center, sits amidst a 4-acre park overlooking the Mississippi River in west-central Illinois. The Villa Kathrine was built in 1900 for wealthy local resident W. George Metz and incorporates Mediterranean and Moroccan designs into its unique architecture—many of the elements came from sketches of Islamic architecture that Metz observed on his world travels.

See more Interpretive Centers in Illinois.

Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa

About 2,700 to 3,500 years ago, nearly two dozen American Indian tribes constructed countless effigy mounds throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. Today, important remnants of that culture can be found at Iowa’s Effigy Mounds National Monument, which is home to more than 200 effigy mounds on one of the most scenic sections of the Mississippi River. The park’s visitor center features exhibits and artifacts outlining the area’s natural and cultural history, and visitors can also explore several hiking trails that pass by the effigy mounds and other notable sites.

See more Interpretive Centers in Iowa.

Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri

Visit one of the iconic sights along the Mississippi River and the Great River Road at Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis. From the top of the arch, visitors can enjoy a breathtaking view of St. Louis and the surrounding area. The Museum of Westward Expansion tells the story of America’s growth as a nation during the 1800s and features several unique artifacts, including items from the Lewis and Clark expedition.

See more Interpretive Centers in Missouri.

Columbus-Belmont State Park, Kentucky

Columbus-Belmont State Park offers outstanding views of the Mississippi River in far western Kentucky, but it was also the site of a notable 1861 Civil War battle—the first active engagement in the war by Ulysses S. Grant. Visitors to the park can explore a Civil War museum that includes artillery shells and other items, and a giant six-ton anchor (which was part of a plan to blockade the river) is also on display at the site. 

See more Interpretive Centers in Kentucky.

Chucalissa and the C.H. Nash Museum, Tennessee

Chucalissa, located in southwest Memphis, allows visitors to explore a culture that flourished before the first Europeans landed in America. This archaeological site was occupied, abandoned, and reoccupied several times between 1000 and 1500 A.D. and was part of a large political system called the Mississippian culture. The C.H. Nash Museum curates an extensive collection of artifacts recovered from excavations of the site.

See more Interpretive Centers in Tennessee.

Lakeport Plantation, Arkansas

Lakeport Plantation in Lake Village dates to the 1830s and produced cotton for nearly a century. Today, it’s an educational site run by Arkansas State University that provides a full picture of plantation life in the South, including exhibits on slavery, sharecropping, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.

See more Interpretive Centers in Arkansas.

Delta Blues Museum, Mississippi

The blues was born in Mississippi, and music lovers of all kinds will find an educational and fascinating experience at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale (which is also home to the famous “Crossroads” where Robert Johnson reportedly sold his soul for his unearthly talent). The museum contains lots of interesting items, including the sharecropper home of Muddy Waters and instruments played by greats like John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, and Big Mama Thornton.

See more Interpretive Centers in Mississippi.

Poverty Point World Heritage Site, Louisiana

One of only 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites located in the United States, Poverty Point World Heritage Site (near the village of Pioneer in far northeastern Louisiana) contains the remnants of a complex array of earthen works that predate the Mayan pyramids. The purpose of the mounds and ridges remains a mystery, although many believe they were the site of homes. The site dates to as early as 1700 B.C. and encompasses more than 400 acres. Tram tours are offered daily.

See more Interpretive Centers in Louisiana.

(Photo: Louisiana Office of Tourism)

Explore the southern Great River Road with this itinerary

Monday, November 07, 2022

The southern Mississippi River states offer a wide range of experiences and places to visit, from tours of important sites in the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement to iconic music venues and attractions. This five-day itinerary will take you along the Great River Road in five states—Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana—and highlight some of this All-American Road’s top offerings.

Day 1 – Memphis

Start your trip in Memphis, Tennessee, where you’ll discover outstanding live music, tons of interesting attractions, fabulous dining, and so much more.

Spend the day visiting Memphis’ iconic musical attractions, including Elvis’ Presley’s Graceland (an entertainment complex where you can tour of the King of Rock’ n Roll’s home, visit his grave, and discover countless items of Elvis memorabilia), Sun Studio (where Elvis and other iconic artists recorded), the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, and more.

History buffs shouldn’t miss the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the former Lorraine Motel, which features interactive exhibits and a massive collection of historic objects that tell the story of the American Civil Rights movement.

If you’re looking to get outside, you can explore unique outdoor attractions like Shelby Farms Park (which spans 4,500 acres and boasts 10+ miles of trails and its own herd of bison) and Big River Crossing (the longest public pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi).

After a day of exploring, head to the Beale Street entertainment district to take in a live show at iconic venues like B.B. King’s Blues Club, Alfred’s Restaurant and Bar, and Tin Roof.

Day 2 – Kentucky and Arkansas

In the morning, explore more of the Memphis attractions you might have missed or grab a bite to eat at one of the city’s amazing breakfast spots and hit the road for a day of adventure.

Head north from Memphis into Kentucky and explore historical sites like Columbus-Belmont State Park (140 miles, 2:45) or Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site (155 miles, 3 hours). Columbus-Belmont State Park is the site of a Civil War fortification built by the Confederates and later occupied by Union forces. Wickliffe Mounds is an archaeological site that was home to a Native American village from 1100 to about 1350 and still boasts impressive earthen mounds today.

On your way back south, head west into Arkansas to find things to see and do along their section of the Great River Road. Stop by the Delta Gateway Museum in downtown Blytheville (100 miles, 2 hours from Columbus-Belmont State Park) to learn about the people and history of northeastern Arkansas. Find outstanding Delta scenery and great recreation options at Mississippi River State Park in Marianna (115 miles, 1:45 from Blytheville) or head to the Delta Cultural Center in Helena (140 miles, 2:15 from Blytheville to learn all about the Mississippi River Delta in Arkansas.

Head back across the river into Clarksdale to spend the night and get ready to explore music history in Mississippi’s Delta region.

Day 3 – Clarksdale to Natchez

Clarksdale in northwestern Mississippi is “the Home of the Blues,” and it certainly lives up to that name. Here, you can explore unique attractions like the Delta Blues Museum, which boasts a massive collection of memorabilia from blues legends, and the famed “Devil’s Crossroads,” where a young Robert Johnson reputedly sold his soul to the Devil for his unnatural musical talent.

Music lovers will find live blues music 365 nights a year in Clarksdale’s clubs and juke joints. Catch a blues legend or up-and-coming act at iconic venues like the Ground Zero Blues Club, Red’s Juke Joint, the Bad Apple Blues Club, and the Shack Up Inn.

From Clarksdale, continue your trip south to Cleveland, where you’ll find the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi (40 miles, 40 minutes from Clarksdale), home to unique interactive exhibits and an outstanding collection of instruments, outfits, and more from performers across the music spectrum. A short drive from Cleveland is Indianola, home to the B.B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center (25 miles, 35 minutes), which tells the story of King’s life and career.

Next, follow the Great River Road to Vicksburg (100 miles, 1:45). Vicksburg National Military Park commemorates the site of one of the most important battles of the Civil War—it includes the largest burial site for Union soldiers and sailors, as well as historic monuments, a cannon display, battle fortifications, and more. Vicksburg is also home to the Lower Mississippi River Museum, which features exhibits about the famous 1927 flood, a 1,500-gallon aquarium filled with native fish, and more.

From Vicksburg, head to Natchez (75 miles, 1:30) and get ready for the rest of your trip.

Day 4 – Natchez to New Orleans

Natchez is one of the oldest cities in Mississippi and home to one of the largest collections of historic buildings in the country. Historic homes like Auburn, Magnolia Hall, Stanton Hall, and the unfinished Longwood, are all open for tours, and Natchez is also the starting point of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which spans roughly 450 miles from Natchez to Nashville, Tennessee.

Spend time exploring Natchez’s historic, walkable downtown or hit the road again and head south to Baton Rouge (90 miles, 1:45), Louisiana’s capital city. Along the way, stop by The Myrtles in St. Francisville, which is known as one of America’s most haunted homes and offers daily tours. In Baton Rouge, take in the unique architecture of Old State Capitol, which is a National Historic Landmark, or tour historic buildings at the LSU Rural Life Museum & Windrush Gardens. Baton Rouge is also home classic Cajun and Creole cuisine, festivals, arts & culture, and lots more.

End the day by heading southeast to New Orleans (80 miles, 1:30).

Day 5 – New Orleans

There’s no better way to end a trip through the South without spending some time in New Orleans. Whether you’re visiting historic attractions like the French Market or the National World War II Museum, enjoying world-class cuisine in the city’s restaurants, or discovering live music in the French Quarter or Frenchmen Street, you’ve got lots of opportunities for fun in the Crescent City.

Jean Lafitte National Historic Park & Preserve has several units throughout south Louisiana in New Orleans and beyond, including the 23,000-acre Bataria Preserve; Chalmette Battlefield, the site of the Battle of New Orleans; and three sites dedicated to Cajun culture and traditions. The Historic New Orleans Collection is a complex of French Quarter buildings that boasts an impressive collection of artifacts and exhibits about New Orleans’ history and culture.

(Photo: Jackson Square, New Orleans/Louisiana Office of Tourism)

Fun facts & trivia about the Great River Road

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

The Great River Road is an American institution—it’s been welcoming visitors for more than 80 years through Mississippi River communities in 10 states, from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Here are a few fun facts you might not know about this All-American Road.

  • The Great River Road is not a single road—it’s a collection of local, state, and federal highways that follow the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles through 10 states
  • The Mississippi River Parkway Commission (the group that oversees the Great River Road) was established in 1938 and has been welcoming travelers to the Mississippi River states for more than 80 years
  • The Great River Road in 2021 was recognized as All-American Road by the Federal Highway Administration, a special designation for National Scenic Byways that are nationally significant and have one-of-a-kind features
  • There are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the Great River Road: Cahokia Mounds in Illinois and Poverty Point in Louisiana
  • Illinois (550 miles) contains the longest segment of the Great River Road; the shortest segment is in Kentucky (less than 60 miles)
  • The Mississippi River and the Great River Road pass through more than 110 parishes and counties from Minnesota to Louisiana
  • There are nearly 100 historic sites, museums, and other attractions that are part of the Great River Road Network of Interpretive Centers, institutions that tell the story of the Mississippi River and its people
  • Iowa’s stretch of Great River Road is home to the most Interpretive Centers (17); Arkansas has 15 and Minnesota has 13
  • Other states along the Great River Road and their number of Interpretive Centers: Illinois 9; Louisiana 9; Mississippi 8; Missouri 7; Wisconsin 6; Tennessee 3; Kentucky 2
  • It takes a drop of water 90 days to travel the length of the Mississippi River, from Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in southern Louisiana
  • It would take about 36 hours of driving to complete the Great River Road north to south (but that only includes driving on one side of the river and does not include segments that are on both sides, e.g., Wisconsin/Iowa v. Illinois)
  • Music lovers will find lots of unique attractions along the Great River Road, including Johnny Cash’s Boyhood Home, the famed Sun Studio and Elvis’ Graceland in Memphis, and the New Orleans Jazz Museum
  • The Great River Road intersects with Route 66 near Alton, Illinois

(Photo: Great River Road near Grafton, Illinois, in fall/Illinois Office of Tourism)

Unique attractions along the southern Great River Road

Thursday, August 25, 2022

A trip along the Great River Road not only means great scenery, fantastic food, and engaging history—it also means a chance to discover some of the unique attractions that travelers can find along the route. Here’s a closer look at a few places to visit along the southern stretch of this All-American Road.

Kentucky

Kentucky’s section of the Great River Road is the shortest along the route, but there are still lots of interesting things to see and do along the Bluegrass State’s western edge. Columbus-Belmont State Park (part of the network of Great River Road Interpretive Centers) in Columbus offers great views of the Mississippi River from its campsites and trails and provides a glimpse at the Civil War history of the region. Visitors to the park will see a giant anchor and chain that was used (unsuccessfully, it turns out) to block Union ships from traversing the Mississippi, as well as Kentucky’s largest Civil War cannon. A museum on site educates visitors about Civil War history in the region, including the Battle of Belmont in November 1861.

Tennessee

Roadtrippers who explore Memphis will find a lot to love, from iconic attractions like Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum to world-famous barbeque and the sights and sounds of Beale Street. But two of the city’s more unique attractions are worth checking out, too. You can’t miss the Memphis Pyramid—this 300-foot-tall structure sits along the Mississippi River just north of downtown Memphis. Originally constructed as a sports arena, the Pyramid is now home to a Bass Pro Shops megastore, a hotel, two restaurants, the tallest freestanding elevator in the world, and many other attractions.

Arkansas

Big River Crossing spans the Mississippi River between Memphis, Tennessee, and West Memphis, Arkansas, and is the longest public pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi. It’s also a popular destination for bicyclists and connects to trails throughout Memphis, West Memphis, and the Mississippi Delta. Big River Crossing is free and open daily from 6am to 10pm. The bridge also features more than 100,000 LED lights that are programmed nightly to commemorate special events, holidays, and other causes.

Music fans shouldn’t miss the chance to learn about country music legend Johnny Cash in Dyess, about a 45-minute drive north of West Memphis. The Historic Dyess Colony and Johnny Cash Boyhood Home—another Great River Road Interpretive Center—tells the story of the Dyess Colony, a federal agricultural resettlement community that was established in 1934 as part of the Works Progress Administration. The Cash family moved to Dyess in 1935, and the Cash home is one of the few remaining homes in the community. Visitors to the site will learn about what life was like there in the early part of the 20th century and how living there affected Cash and his music.

Mississippi

Uncover more history at one of the Civil War’s most important sites as you travel along the Great River Road in Mississippi. Vicksburg National Military Park (a Great River Road Interpretive Center), located in the west-central part of the state, educates visitors about the Battle of Vicksburg, which took place from March 29 to July 4, 1863, and the campaign leading up to this key conflict.

Another glimpse into Mississippi’s past can be found at the Windsor Ruins in Port Gibson, about a 40-mile drive south of Vicksburg. The ruins sit on the site of the former Windsor Plantation, which was home to one of the largest houses in Mississippi before the Civil War. In 1890, a fire destroyed the home, leaving only the immense concrete columns behind. Today Windsor Ruins is a popular spot for photo ops along the Mississippi Great River Road.

Louisiana

Like the rest of the South, Louisiana is full of iconic historic sites, from Civil War battlefields to towering cathedrals to UNESCO World Heritage sites. In the state capital of Baton Rouge, visitors will find Louisiana’s Old State Capitol, a National Historic Landmark that sits atop a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. The castle-like Gothic-Victorian building was constructed in the late 1840s and was the home of the state legislature for nearly 90 years. Today, visitors can learn about state history at the Old State Capitol Museum and tour the unique architectural site, which includes a stained-glass cathedral dome.

New Orleans is famous for its ghost tours and other spectral attractions, but one of the most popular pastimes among visitors is touring local cemeteries. Metairie Cemetery (located in New Orleans proper, not the suburb of Metairie as one might think) is where some of the city’s most famous residents are buried, and it’s the perfect place to take a walk through history. See the graves of musicians like Louis Prima and Al Hirt, baseball Hall of Famer Mel Ott, and many local restaurateurs, like the founders of Brennan’s and Antoine’s. Learn more about New Orleans cemetery tours here.